Zika Virus and Travel: What’s A Family To Do?

It is no secret that the CDC has issued a travel warning for pregnant women considering traveling to infected areas of the world. In fact many airlines are offering refunds for travelers wanting to change plans based on the Zika Virus. It’s not clear how Zika is impacting travel and specifically families who are traveling. It is clear that the virus is spreading rapidly and to some of my favorite places to travel!

Zika Infected Areas

The most infected areas are shown here:

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Zika infected areas include [but are not limited to]:

  1. Cape Verde
  2. Caribbean
  3. Central America
  4. South America
  5. Mexico
  6. Samoa

Infection and Prevention

It seems only 1 in 5 adults infected with the Zika Virus show symptoms which are reported to be flu-like. The biggest issue is for pregnant women because there Zika could increase the risk of birth defects in unborn children. But what about babies? Young kids? Teens? The list goes on.

Since Zika is transmitted by mosquitos it is important to prevent being bitten. How do you do that? Outside Magazine online has some great suggestions:

  1. Use repellents that contain at least 20% deet
  2. Cover up with clothing
  3. Stay inside at high mosquito times of day [dawn/dusk]
  4. Use permethrin-treated clothing

Also, Consumer Reports just published a review of mosquito repellents that best protect against Zika. These are all ways to control your exposure to mosquitos and Zika virus. And the CDC has plenty of reading on the issue including an CDC FAQ page.

Will Zika impact your family travel plans? 

 

Packing For Traveling With Kids

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Traveling with kids? Let the kids have some input and travel like a pro!

As soon as our kids could pull a suitcase or carry a backpack we always included them in the travel experience by having them take responsibility for at least some of their own gear. Especially in an airport this can make your life easier but be prepared to offer a hand if your child gets tired of carrying the items you’ve given them. My priority is to ensure they learn to love traveling not dogmatically make them carry their own gear.

Packing a Suitcase – Always pack things they like to wear. It’s no fun to have a suitcase full of clothing or shoes and have your child say they won’t wear them, so avoid this issue and pack what they like. Better yet, give them a list of things they need to pack [you can alter this list based on your child’s age/ability] and help them identify the items they love to wear – and pack those. Always pack an extra set of clothing and a little more warmth than they kids think they will need.

You can find child size suitcases at a local department store, Target, Amazon.com or at high end travel stores such as Patagonia.com. 

Packing a Backpack – The backpack has the items your kids need to have with them for comfort [e.g., a bankie or other cuddly toy for comfort] and for entertainment. The pack should be their size and fit comfortably. This is true if you are packing for a car ride or an airplane ride. When our kids were young we had things we always did for them like wrapping a few new toys for them to unwrap in the airplane. These can be simple, but engaging. Now we never leave the house for a trip without a sketchbook, art supplies, and an iPad [preferably loaded with a movie and some games since you cannot count on wifi on planes and certainly not in the car]. We also like to pack things like a hackysack or soccer ball for when we land or on a layover. Entertainment is key!

You can find child size backpacks at online retailers such as LLBean.com. I like these because they last forever! You can get fancy and have their initials or name embroidered on if you have time. The younger kids love this! 

Please share any packing and travel tips! Enjoy your family travels!

 

How To Find A Hotel Room For Half The Amex Membership Rewards Points!

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Photo courtesy of SPG Hotels and the Aloft Hotel Phoenix

Book a hotel for half the Amex Membership Rewards points! If you have an American Express card then you earn valuable Membership Reward points [MR]. These can help with purchasing from Amazon, Home Depot, as well as traveling. I am focused on travel!

When you use Amex points you have a few different ways to book your travel. The first is to use the Amex travel portal. The second is to transfer points between Amex and one of their travel partners [e.g., SPG,  Delta, etc…]. These are both good options depending on what your travel plans call for. Mine call for a hotel in Phoenix, AZ since my son will be competing in a soccer tournament there in February and we are staying an extra night to check out Phoenix!

Even though I am going to use American Express MR points to secure a hotel for us the cost in points is very different. The take home is that you need to compare options to maximize your valuable points. In this scenario I saved half my points for the same room.

My son loves the Aloft hotels. They happen to be an SPG property. I know I can book these through Amex. Time to do some research! Here is what I found:

Option 1: Use Travel Portal at Amex. Here I can purchase the night I need through the travel portal at a cost $159 [same as I could buy directly on the Aloft website] or 22,714 Amex Membership Rewards points. Aloft Room = 22,714 MR points

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Option 2: Transfer Amex Points To SPG. The SPG site says the number of points needed for a room at the Aloft for the night I need is 3,000. On the Amex site MR points transfer at a rate of 1,000 MRs to 333 SPG points. It turns out I need 10,000 MRs to get 3,333 SPG points for the room [Now I will have a few extra SPG points, but that’s just how it works]. Aloft Room = 10,000 MR points

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I am going for Option 2! I get the same room for less than half the MR points! For the same room I could pay 10,000 Membership Rewards points or 22,714 Membership Rewards points. My choice is clear! I will transfer points to my SPG account and only be out 10k MR points. I’m headed off to book my room now…

 

The Capital Is Calling: Washington D.C. is a Great Family Vacation Option!

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Washington, D.C. is a great family vacation option! The history is rich and no matter the age of your children they will recognize some of the iconic monuments & locations in D.C. Not only is this an amazing learning environment for the kids, but the Smithsonian’s and all the monuments and memorials along the National Mall are free. Even though D.C. is not a beach vacation or an amusement park, it is vibrant and alive with tons of options for the whole family!

DC2We spent four amazing days in D.C. with our kids, ages 9 & 11. We could have spent longer, but four days worked out well. We got to see a lot, but not at a frenetic pace. My whole family agrees that we would head back without hesitation!

The Highlights of Our DC Trip:

Kids: The Flight Simulator at the Air & Space Museum in Virginia was their favorite!

Parents: Seeing the space shuttle at the Air and Space Museum in Virginia, and walking along the National Mall seeing the iconic memorials and monuments, especially the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial.

Whole Family: Capital City Bikes Tours – Monuments & Memorials Sunset Bike Tour. This DC2
was an amazing tour that took us through the streets of D.C. at sunset. We stopped at the major monuments and memorials and were treated to juicy details we never would have known without the guide who was super knowledgable! Older kids can have their own bikes and the younger ones can join on a tandem.

DC Government Tours: Our trip was a last minute decision so we did not get to participate in a lot of the organized tours of the government. If you plan ahead you can request a tour of the White House and/or the US Congress. Depending on the age of your kids – these can be a really memorable experiences! Try to put in a request at least 3 months ahead of time if possible.

Local Tours: Take a bike tour with Capital City Bike Tours. They can usually be booked last minute and offer you guided tours of the monuments and memorials of D.C. You can also take a self-guided tour of the National Mall. Find a brochure from the National Parks Service.

Smithsonian Museums: I have fond memories of spending time at Washington D.C., museums.  I specifically remembered the Air and Space Museum, so I was excited to take the kids back! We spent the most time at these museums: National Museum of Natural History, the Air and Space Museum, the National Museum of American Indian. They were all great options and entertained the kids for hours. Each has a cafeteria so you can take a break, or grab something from a street vendor right outside along the National Mall. The American Indian Museum has a really great cafeteria we heard people rave about and after trying it we concur. It offered delicious food based on the different Native American regions so it was unique and educational, but the kids still enjoyed the food.

The most memorable museum – the one we had to drag our kids out of – was the Air and Space Museum in Virginia – this one you have to drive for – but this location houses all the over sized space toys like the space shuttle, war planes, bi-planes, and tons more. Also, there are flight simulators on site and the kids LOVED these. It was almost impossible to get them out!

Other Museums: There is also the International Spy Museum that is amazing and really engages the kids. It isn’t a Smithsonian so it does cost to go in. We thought it was worth the cost!

Outdoors: Take a walk on the National Mall – which is a actually a National Park – so look for Junior Ranger program information for your kids. They offer activity booklets your kids can do along the way all the while becoming a Junior Ranger replete with a badge and stamp when they complete this booklet. We found ice cream and pretzels along the National Mall which offered a great break and a burst of energy for all of us on those hot summer days. Of course you can explore the Lincoln Memorial, the Vietnam Memorial, and other outdoor locations too.

Getting There: United Airlines and Frontier Airlines offer direct flights to Washington, D.C. from Denver.

General Words of Advice:

1. Take your time! Go slowly and don’t schedule yourself too tightly. There is so much to do you will want to get it all in, but if you are traveling as a family, pick your top sites and hit those for sure. Everything else is icing on the cake.

2. If you go in the summer it can be really hot, so consider going early or late to avoid the middle of the day heat – even if you are planning to be at the museums!

3. Bring good walking shoes. Seems obvious, but you walk a lot and so good shoes helps!

Have tons of fun exploring the rich history and educational opportunities in Washington, D.C.!

How Memories Are Made: Family Travel Through Nicaragua and Costa Rica

“There is a great hotel in San Jose!”, was my son’s response to our friend’s request for suggestions of what to do in Costa Rica.

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For almost three weeks we traveled throughout Nicaragua and Costa Rica – all eight of us – two families traveling together. We intended to have an adventure so we spent our days on volcanoes, zipping through the jungle canopy of Costa Rica, surfing in San Juan del Sur, hiking through the heat and humidity of a remote volcanic island, and riding horses. It was all adventure, but not all of it as positive as others; during the course of the trip the kids’  backpacks had been stollen and the kids managed to puke all over at least two hotels. It was an amazing [multi] family adventure! It really was. Honest.

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San Jose Marriott

When I think back on our trip I remember watching the sun set on the Pacific Ocean while drinking smoothies along the coast in Nicaragua, my husband remembers “Tyler’s Place” where we stayed to surf and explore Nicaragua. BUT if you ask my kids they will tell you that there is a great Marriott in San Jose!

They did just that the other day. We have friends who scored last minute United Airlines mileage tickets to Costa Rica and knowing we had been there, asked for recommendations. I offered up mine in a detailed email. In the soccer carpool this friend asked my son this question and he offered what was most vivid in his mind – The Costa Rica Marriott Hotel in San Jose. This friend sent me an email to confirm this was his response. We both laughed. Then I started thinking about how it could possibly be that my son’s best memory of our extended family trip was of a hotel?

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The white sheets!

Until the other day I hadn’t thought about the moment when we got to San Jose, after a long drive and our stollen backpack fiasco, for a long time. It reminded me that you cannot always predict what memories will be indelibly etched in your children’s minds. What will make the biggest impact. You just never know! In this case I believe it was the contrast of the relatively rustic way we traveled for close to three weeks, the stollen backpacks, being sick, then the safety of this simply luxurious hotel.

When we walked into the hotel it felt cloistered. It felt safe. It felt welcoming. The sheets were so white. The beds so tall. The restaurant had the most amazing buffet any of us had ever seen. They prepared anything the kids requested. My kids noticed ALL these details. All of them. We had not left Costa Rica but the Marriott made us feel like we had been swept up into the best of all worlds – local culture and amenities galore. This experience is indelibly woven into the fabric of my children’s beings. They may forget the other amazing things we did on our trip, but they will not forget this simple luxury.

Family Travel in Guatemala: A Full Sensory Experience!

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A Guatemala Trip Report: Our family of four had a blast!

The jungle here in Guatemala belies the hidden Mayan culture we are about to encounter. As the kids swim in the pool at our small hotel on the site of Tikal National Park I know they cannot comprehend what is right around the corner. No way. They complain about having to hike in. Par for the course. Then we come out onto the main plaza area in Tikal where they see pyramids and monkeys and things they have no words for – we all stop to soak it in. We are standing on this sacred spot looking into the past. Reminds me of the first time I saw the Grand Canyon – it was almost incomprehensible how large it was. Then our guide tells my boys they can climb around on the site and they immediately start exploring. Guatemala is truly a land of amazement and a perfect family travel experience!

Guatemala has a special place in my heart. My husband and I traveled to Guatemala in 1990. We took time off from college and spent 3 months learning Spanish and traveling around this amazing country. The indigenous culture, Spanish, vibrant colors, mountains, and the warmth of the people in this Central American country had left me dreaming of the day I would return. Since then I have always wanted to go back. I finally got the chance and took my kids – ages 10 & 12 – for 2 1/2 weeks.

Guatemala is not luxury travel. Though you can travel luxuriously. We IMG_3656used TripAdvisor to locate hotels that were family-friendly and retained a feeling of the local culture. A few years earlier we traveled to Costa Rica and we wanted something a little rougher, but not without any amenities. We organized most of our travel ahead of time, but left room for flexibility.

Guatemala is not insular. You can really get a sense of the culture through food, experiences, and observation. We chose to travel close to the ground and spend time observing [and participating in] the local customs and events whenever possible. It seemed we were always stumbling onto something new like on New Year’s day when the people in Antigua lit off literally streets full of firecrackers. Smoke filling the streets. People cheering. Believe me, we would never do this in the US!

IMG_4156Guatemala is not tame – there are adventures of all kinds to be had. We found ourselves traveling to some of the hot spots in this country since we had under three weeks. Our family spent time in Antigua, Chichicastenango Market, Tikal, and the Pacific Ocean site of Paredon Surf House. I would add Lago Atitlan and Livingston as must see family spots in Guatemala but we didn’t make it because of our schedule and choosing to travel more slowly! So to add to surfing some of the things you can find to do in Guatemala as a family are sailing, horse back riding and zip lining.

Here are the places we spent time in during our trip:

Antigua – We spent at least a week here on and off. The town is a Worldantigua Heritage site which was the capital of Guatemala at one time. The buildings are spectacular and the fact you can get a great cup of coffee was helpful! The kids loved wandering the cobblestone streets, eating lunch overlooking the plaza or in an amazing internal courtyard, touring a coffee cooperative, and experiencing the most amazing New Years party throughout the streets of Antigua – ever! If you were dropped in Antigua on New Year Eve you would think this was a town of Pyromaniacs – this makes for happy boys.

Chichcastenango – This was our first stop. A little overwhelming for theIMG_3615 kids as their introduction to Guatemala so I would head there again, but later in our trip. The market in Chichicastenango is amazing. It is the real deal. It is not intended for Gringo Tourists – people are selling day to day goods as well as masks. The best part was the fact that we happened upon a religious ceremony that includes ornate processions, and men hanging upside down from ropes on a pole 3 stories high. Captivating for all of us!

Tikal – The most amazing Mayan ruins rising out of the jungle! We stayed at a hotel on the site of Tikal National Park. A splurge. But it was amazing to be right in the park. A walk through Tikal is nothing like it would be in USA. You can climb all around and on these Mayan ruins so it was a full body experience and with 10 & 12 year olds they really appreciated being let loose. I highly recommend Tikal for any family!

Paredon Surf House – This is a little known location on the coast of Guatemala. Our family full of culture and loved every minute, but we IMG_4156wanted to satiate our surfing desires so we did some research and found Paradon Surf House in the town of El Paredon about 2 hours from Guatemala City. It was an amazing, tranquil, out of the way location right on the water with a pool, food available onsite [so no stressing about buying ahead and making it], and surf lessons available all day long. Perfect! Beside surfing along the black sand beaches was that there were people from all over the world staying in this small surf house that held maybe 30 people max. The kids got up and surfed the first day and then didn’t want to stop!

Getting Up Close & Personal – The thing we appreciated most is how close to the culture and people we got in Guatemala as tourists. It was the coffee tour that is burned in my mind – just our family with a coffee farmer & interpreter. We ended the tour at this farmer’s house where the kids got to separate the dried coffee by using a bike powered machine he clearly created, roast the coffee over a fire, meet the kids of this family, and drink coffee. They still talk about the “best coffee ever!”

Safety – We always felt safe traveling in Guatemala. With kids we decided to avoid the local bus service known as “Chicken Buses” which was bitter sweet because we traveled in relatively more comfort than we had in our previous visit, but we had some of our best experiences on these buses sitting next to chickens. We were careful with food and simply explained to the kids about not drinking water from an unknown source and washing regularly. It was easy and no one got sick!

The kids thoroughly enjoyed our Guatemalan adventure. They have asked that on our next vacation we stay in one place longer. What they described would fall into the arena of “All Inclusive” but I don’t think this is what they mean since they have never experienced anything of the sort. Will a more tame trip be in our future? I doubt it.

 

 

Trip Review: Riding the Mountain at Beaver Creek and More!

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Skyler biking on the Rose Pedal trail in Beaver Creek.

Our family loves heading to the mountains! We are avid skiers and at least some of us love mountain biking. Sometimes on long Boulder rides our kids complain, but when we take them to a resort where we take the chairlift up, they always enjoy themselves!

Recently we headed to Beaver Creek for a conference my husband was attending and decided to take our nine year old. We love the entire Vail Valley for it’s ski potential, but it is easy to forget that this area is bustling in the summer with so much to do! There were families everywhere enjoying all the recreation options, sitting by a fire pit in the heart of Beaver Creek Village eating pizzas they picked up, making s’mores, ice skating, biking, hiking, swimming, etc… And these resorts know how to make it easy!

What can you do at ski resorts during the summer?

  • Mountain Bike: You can head up hill on your own or you can take the chairlift up and bike down. With kids we always choose the later. They love finding the fun trails down. They also enjoy eating up on the mountain! There were so many kids there! The really young ones were playing in sand box at the top of the lift, others were exploring, eating at the restaurant, or getting ready to hike or bike. Our favorite mountain biking trail was the Rose Pedal. We did this at least 4 times.
  • Hiking: There are endless hiking options in the Beaver Creek area. Hiking on the mountain gives you endless options for hikes for all levels. The flowers are amazing and the views are spectacular! Our favorite hike in that Vail Valley is Booth Creek Falls in Vail.
  • Ice Skating: They keep the ice rinks open all year around. So lace up your skates and take a twirl. The kids love this in the early evening!
  • Roast Marshmallows/Make S’mores: Beaver Creek is renowned for their warm cookies after a long day of skiing. In the summer if you stay at a hotel the warm cookies turned to s’more makings by the outdoor fire pit. Yummmmm!
  • Activities: Kids [and adults] can try their hand on outdoor climbing walls, a putt putt golf course, and much more.
  • Swimming: Take a dip with your kids, slope side. My son loved swimming after a long  day of biking, hiking, & playing!

Things to consider for your visit:

  • Lodging: You can rent directly from any of the hotels in Beaver Creek, or try Vail On Sale, a discount lodging site for Vail and Beaver Creek. You can always enjoy Beaver Creek via a VRBO [Vacation Rental By Owner] deal. This option can net you a condo or house which might work best if you have a larger group.
  • Mountain Biking & Hiking: Purchase chairlift tickets for yourself and your bike onsite or here. It looks like the prices are the same if you purchase ahead of time or right when you need them. Often I find waiting with the kids is best because I just never know what might come up. Kids under 12 are FREE!
  • Activities: There are events and concerts happening all year around. To find out what is happening at Beaver Creek check in here.

#vailresorts #mountainbiking #getoutdoors #kids #families #beavercreek #

Kids, Museums, and Trying Something New

Exploring all around the Smithsonian Museums

Okay, I am not a big museum fan. Usually I head in, spend the requisite hour or so and then I am out again. Not these past few days! My kids and I have been in Washington, DC and we have hit the Smithsonian Museums hard. I am impressed with how much resilience they have [they are 8 & 10]. We have hit the Air and Space Museum, American Indian Museum [lunch], Natural History Museum, and the American History Museum all in ONE day. Then today we went to the museum where they have the Discovery space shuttle and so much about aviation history including every type of plane imaginable and flight simulators [my kids did them twice and would have stayed on forever!] It was magical! I cannot believe how amped up we ALL feel planning for, during, and after exploring something new!So in Boulder we don’t have the Smithsonian, but here are some ideas of a few places to go to stretch your kiddo’s [and our] minds:

Don’t forget to watch for FREE DAYS at the Denver Art Museum, Denver Museum of Nature and Science, and the Denver Children’s Museum. I list them each week as they arise. Also, a great hint for keeping the kids engaged during  a visit to an art museum is to stop by the gift shop FIRST & let your kids each pick out a postcard of a piece of art that they like. Then engage them in finding that piece of art. Could work for other types of museums too. Go. Explore. Don’t worry how far you have to drive. Get out there. Have fun!

Family Travel: What I [Re]Learned On My Trip to Sayulita, Mexico

Sorry for the silence from my end this past week. I just got back from a last minute trip to Sayulita, Mexico with my kids [8 & 10] to visit a friend and her kids. My friend and I were solo for the week with both husbands traveling, so why not go? The friend I was visiting lives life fully! She is always packing in more in a morning than I get done many days. We have traveled with the kids lots, but this trip was incredibly humbling as a parent. Since many of you will be traveling this summer I want to pass along my lessons learned. Here is what I [re]learned:

1. Make sure your kids wear a rash guard/swim top if they are going to be spending the first few days submerged in the ocean and out in the sun. My 10 year old go so burnt [even though I applied sun screen–Badger–multiple, multiple times!] that he blistered, was so uncomfortable, and I believe got sunstroke and landed us in the hospital for fluids. I felt SO bad. Actually I still do. So maybe the waterproof sunscreens do have a place in our family or maybe we will just stick to the rash guard.

2. Hydrate! Ensure your kids are drinking LOTS! Honestly this is so important when you are outside all day in the sun. Somehow you have to double your water intake on a vacation! So buy the kids the cold water. Let them drink the icy limonadas.

3. Make sure you have sufficient entertainment for the kids in case of travel delays! We were delayed over 12 hours and finally ended up spending the night in Houston where I didn’t get my kids to sleep until 12:45am. Our family loves mazes, books, crossword puzzles, art supplies, and the good old iPad. Make sure they are with you, not under the plane!

4. Bring snacks–even if it’s a short flight. Our scheduled 2+ hour flight to Houston where we caught a flight to Denver turned into an over 6 hour flight as we had to circle forever, then were diverted to San Antonio where they had us on the ground for hours without food. United Airlines did not have food on the plane.

5. Throw caution to the wind and just go! We made this trip happen really last minute. It was great to just get up and go. You can do it! It makes for such great memories for the whole family. You don’t have to go to Mexico. Check out the National Parks right here in Colorado, spend the night at a cabin in the mountains, go camping, etc.

6. Get the kids involved and into the culture. I made sure the kids learned a little bit of Spanish before we left. I would practice phrases and words. They had to order their own food and ask in Spanish. They loved it! It made them feel so proud!

So along with sun burnt skin, dehydration, being stuck on a plane all day and having to spend the night in Houston, Mexico was just as I remembered. The people are so warm and friendly. They love it when you speak Spanish. The ocean is magnificent and so welcomed from a Boulder, Colorado family. The kids felt heart broken by the street dogs and wanted to take every dog without a collar home. They tried new things–and loved them [food, jumping from 30 ft. cliffs, surfing, etc.]. We felt really safe. We walked the streets at night. We met all sorts of people. We would do it again in a heart beat! I hope we make it happen sooner than last time [It’s been 10 years since I have been to Sayulita].

Globetrotting Kids: Check Out These Kids’ Blogs About Traveling

National Geographic Kids is supporting kids to blog about their experiences on their Around The World family trip. Way to go National Geographic. I am SO jealous! For some interesting reading check out these two kids’ blogs:

National Geographic is such a great resource! My kids pour over it when it arrives and invariably there is an article & certainly photos that capture their curiosity. When I was researching stories about traveling with kids I found some great resources at National Geographic: